Au Pair or Nanny – which to choose?

by Gill_admin.


There are 1,000s of nannies across London and there are also very many au pairs. Everyone knows what a nanny is, but – if asked – would you be confident explaining precisely what an au pair is? Although you know both are involved in childcare, how exactly do they differ?

They do differ and considerably so. They both look after your children but that is where the similarities start and end. You might already know that an au pair costs a fraction (about 1/5th) of the cost of a nanny. So, why don’t we all engage au pairs instead?

If you are currently grappling with this question then I would like to explain the differences to you, so that you make an informed decision.


– Qualified child-carer*

– or trained AND qualified child-carer (eg. Norland)

– or a nanny can also be a child-carer without formal training or qualifications, but who has a considerable amount of verifiable experience looking after children by themselves.

*Beware the many different qualifications, some with different levels- so check carefully!

Other facts:

  • Usually native or at least fluent English speakers
  • Live in/ out
  • Part/ Full time
  • Your employee (tax & N.I. considerations and you must adhere to employment law regulations)
  • Responsible for children and babies
  • Responsible for children’s washing, preparation of children’s meals etc. but will not usually undertake general household duties.
  • Police checked

Au pair:

  • Usually has no formal childcare qualification or formal training, but normally has good childcare experience (eg. looking after neighbours’ children several afternoons per week for past few years)
  • A young person typically aged 17-27 who comes to the UK from abroad in the form of a cultural exchange.
  • Significantly, an au pair is not your employee. The phrase ‘au pair’ means ‘on a par’ or ‘equal to’ the other family members. They are treated as a member of the family, given meals & accommodation free and pocket money – usually £80-100 p/w, in return for 25-35 hrs p/w (& 2 evenings babysitting) childcare and light household chores.
  • Must live in, as one of the rules of this cultural exchange is that they must live as part of the      family.
  • This also means there will be no tax, N.I. or minimum wage considerations. And they are mostly exempt from employment law regulations.
  • Au pairs are here primarily to improve their English and should be given the opportunity to      attend an English course (if they wish to). The host family is not required to contribute to that cost. A course is commonly 2 or 3 hours, 2 – 3 mornings per week.
  • Most au pairs stay for 6, 9 or 12 months and then return home to study or start their career, but      with the current economic depression in Europe it has been well publicised  that there are now many highly qualified foreign graduates (teachers, nurses, lawyers) who are also seeking to become au pairs in the UK.
  • Police Checked.

So, which to choose?

 That obviously depends on your own childcare needs.

If you have a child under 2 years old and neither parent is at home, then you need to employ a nanny, as au pairs are not permitted to have sole charge of a child under 2 years of age.

Also, if you need more than 35 hours of childcare per week, then you might need to employ a nanny. Some families combine a part time nanny with an au pair, or place children with a child minder or nursery for some mornings.

Aside from those 2 restrictions and using common sense you have the possibility of opting for the lower costing au pair.

As a mother of 3 who has had many fabulous au pairs over many years I cannot emphasise enough what an inexpensive luxury it is to have an au pair!

Whether you work full time or don’t work, having a kind, helpful young person around to help with every routine household chore from hanging out the washing to stacking and unpacking the dishwasher, grocery shopping, the endless tidying up of toys and clothes etc. is thoroughly liberating. What is more, they do not begrudge this work, because they benefit as much as you do – they acquire the experience of a lifetime and fluent English!

Au pairs often have great energy for having fun and playing games with your children and children love to have an au pair in their family. Au pairs are usually well educated, clever people who also help with children’s homework and learn your routine quickly. Also, be assured that au pairs don’t spend all their free time with you, but on their laptops or out exploring with new friends.

Some possible benefits for choosing au pair over nanny:

 They cost a fraction of the cost of a nanny

  • Generally no tax or NI contributions
  • Flexible about childcare hours without it being a big deal
  • Help with general household chores not just child related
  • You might not need to keep your cleaner
  • No need to employ additional babysitter, as 2 evenings babysitting p/w are included!
  • Teach your children a foreign language
  • Walk the dog for you, most nannies will not do that
  • It is a new experience and the au pair is full of infectious enthusiasm for your children &      location!
  • For those who can’t afford a nanny having an au pair means they can return to work
  • More relaxed having a ‘member of the family’ around than an ‘employee’ or guest
  • Their main priority is you – unlike nannies  who might work for other families or have their own family commitments.
  • They don’t expect top class accommodation, a small pleasant room is fine.
  • Many more points I could not fit on this page, if you want to hear them, call me!

There are many fabulous au pairs, but undoubtedly also many inexperienced -or worse, so always engage an agency which specialises in au pairs and understands this distinctive sector properly. A good agency will take time to understand your precise requirements, will advise you and will speak to all candidates themselves before recommending them to you.

Agencies will check for criminal history, provide medical certificates, childcare and character references. They will provide you with photos, full application forms, copies of passport & driving licence etc. and help you to decide. Crucially, a good agency will always be there to support you, should you encounter any problematic situations and also to aid your au pair to settle in quickly and find friends.

Au pair? Nanny? Whichever you choose, use your instinct and good luck!

Gill Buhler,

Director at Heavenly Au Pairs

If you would like to discuss your childcare requirements, get in touch at  –

(This Article was written by Heavenly Au Pairs for ‘My Sheen Village’ on-line magazine)